The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born is the debut novel that is catapulted by the Ghanaian writer Ayei Kwei Armah into the limelight. The novel is generally a satirical attack on the Ghanaian society during Kwame Nkrumah’s regime and the period immediately after independence in the 1960s. It is often claimed to rank with “Things Fall Apart” as one of the high points of post-colonial African Literature. The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born was published in 1968 by Houghton Mifflin, and then republished in the influential Heinemann African Writers Series in 1969. The novel tells the story of a nameless man who struggles to reconcile himself with the reality of post-independence Ghana. He is a railway freight clerk that attempts to hold out against the pressures that impel him toward corruption in both his family and his country.
Background of the Author/Work
Ayei Kwei Armah was born in Takoradi, Ghana, in 1939 and was educated at Achimota High School, Groton School and Harvard University. He has worked as translator, editor, television script-writer and lecturer at the National University of Lesotho. His published novels which includes: Fragments, Why are we so Blessed,Two Thousand Seasons, The Healers and The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born.
The protagonist is an unnamed railway freight clerk. He is portrayed as a lone ranger in his stance against corruption. He faces intense pressures to compromise his self-entrenched value system. The uncelebrated hero lives like a stranger in his own home where even his good natured wife, described as, ‘ a very polite woman…’(p.55) makes him ‘feel like a criminal …’ for failing to do what everyone else does in order to get enough money for their upkeep (P.54). His wife calls him, ‘the Chichidodo’. That is, a bird that feeds on maggots, but hates the excreta, which produces the worms. As he weighs her words, he develops low self-esteem and occasionally seeks succour from Teacher, the only man that seems to understand him. Sometimes, he is bogged down in self-pity, as he wonders at his pathetic condition and berates himself for being a mediocre. The hero is openly despised for his uncompromising stance against corruption. The writer presents him as a nonentity without a name. The villain, Joseph Koomson, his former classmate, has accolades such as ‘His Excellency,’ ‘the Minister,’ ‘Brother Joe’ and so on. The protagonist is a queer character. His personal philosophy appears inexplicable, but can be deduced from the maxims he keenly identifies with such as the lyrics of the song on page 51:
Let them go.
I will travel slowly,
And I too will arrive.
However, the hero doubts the possibility of his arrival as he weighs the odds against him. Another such maxim is the one that forms the title of the novel, The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born which is drawn from an inscription on a vehicle. He feels alienated from the society as others consider his convictions quixotic. His wife, Oyo, merely tolerates him, but idolizes his rich friend, the corrupt politician, Koomson. The mother-in-law taunts him for failing to cater for his family like a ‘proper man’. She makes a caricature of him, as a dismal failure. Teacher, the only man that seems to understand him lives a cocooned life, refusing to venture out of his shell into the decadent society. Despite his obvious intelligence and uncanny ability to discern situations, the protagonist resigns to fate, accepting defeat.
The characters includes:
The man, deliberately given the generality of anonymity, a clerk who works for the nationalized railway system in Ghana. He and his wife, Oyo, and their children live in comparative poverty because of the man’s unflinching determination not to accept bribes but to live on his inadequate salary in a society that finds such behavior incomprehensible. In spite of the temptations that come to him from every side, the constant nagging of his bitter wife, and his own awareness of the hardships his honesty imposes upon his children, he maintains his unalterable moral stance. His determination is in some measure justified when a coup destroys the regime and the corrupt are arrested, but as he begins to rejoice in the vigorous national purge of corruption, he witnesses the same old crookedness immediately reactivated. the man represents, to an exaggerated degree, an idealized portrait of a truly noble man in a degraded society.The man represents the honest members of society in Ghana. Armah uses him as the main character to depict what the life of the ordinary Ghanaian citizen looked like. The man has a meagre job as a clerk and struggles to feed his wife, Oyo, and his children. Despite being tempted by numerous people—including his politician friend, Koomson—to take bribes and enrich himself quickly, he refuses to be tainted.
Oyo, the man’s wife. She has no sympathy for her husband’s honesty and all but despises him for it. Indifferent to the principles involved, she can only see how well others are managing as a result of their acquiescence to wrongdoing. She has a deep envy of the successful and yearns for the luxuries that other women enjoy. Only at the end does she commend her husband when she sees the painful consequences of corruption that come when the criminals are arrested.Oyo is the man’s wife and someone that admires wealth, regardless of how it was gained. She represents those poorer Ghanaians who have no problem with corruption or ill-gotten wealth when they consider their current situation. She always blames her husband for her suffering.
Koomson is Nkrumah’s socialist minister and the man’s former classmate. He represents the corrupt and selfish political system. He lives in comfort with his wife, Estella, and forgets about the plight of the poor. He does nothing to benefit society.
The teacher is a middle-aged man full of wisdom who has given up on life and sees no hope for Ghana. He represents the citizens who thought life would change after the colonizers left, only to be disappointed. He is also the man’s friend, and they occasionally discuss Ghana’s political situation.
Estella is Koomson’s wife and someone that’s used to luxury.
What are some quotes from The beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born?
What are the themes of The beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born?
What is a summary of The beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born?
What is the moral of the story in The beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born?
What is the theme of The beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born”?
Short notes on the characters Joseph Koomson,The Man,Oyo,Estella.
What is the roles of Maanan, the man and Teacher in Ayei Kwei Armah’s The beautiful Ones Are Not?
The setting of the novel is Ghana in the twilight of the reign of Kwame Nkuruma and the early days of the military regime that succeeded it. The novel is a satirical attack on the Ghanaian society during this era. The civilian political actors had abandoned the socialist ideals upon which they leveraged to come to power. The Pan-African philosophy of Kwame Nkrumah during this period, was also evidently thwarted to serve the pecuniary interest of his cohorts. Corruption reeked to high heavens. After the change of guard occasioned by a military coup, corruption remained the bane of this typical African society as revealed in the novel. The setting is also contemporary as the ugly situation remains unabated in most African countries with those who claim to be fighters of corruption turning out as the worst culprits. The society lampoons nonconformists, as ‘… chichidodos …whose entrails are not hard enough for the national game.’(p.55)
The unnamed protagonist, referred to as “the man”, works at a railway station and is approached with a bribe; when he refuses, his wife is furious and he can’t help feeling guilty despite his innocence. The action takes place between 1965’s Passion Week and 25 February 1966 – the day after the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s president.
The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born revolves around an unnamed railway freight clerk who faces intense pressures impelling him to compromise his values and patriotic convictions by joining the corruption train, which seems to have everyone else on board. The protagonist struggles to reconcile his personal convictions with the expectations of his loved ones and society. He faces unwarranted attacks, even as he commutes to work. On a particular occasion, a bus driver contemptuously spits at him. At the office, his patriotic disposition – as he dedicates himself to assigned duties and refuses to give or take bribes, makes him an irritant to co-workers. Although ‘the man’ remains an uncelebrated hero all through the story, a twist that vindicates him occurs towards the end of the narrative. The military seizes power as it overthrows the overtly corrupt civilian government. The once detached friend, Koomson, runs to the man’s poverty-ridden house and escapes through a smelly latrine which he could not condescend to use during a visit in his days of power. On this occasion, the potbellied politician oozes a stench that is so unbearable that Oyo, his erstwhile admirer, remarks, ‘He stinks…’ and says to her husband,’…I am glad that you never become like him’. (p.165)
The theme of corruption: The novel portrays the central theme of corruption as the bane of the society. The theme of corruption is explored along with other sub-themes such as poverty, social inequality, hero- worshipping, political instability, economic sabotage, solitude and retributive justice. The writer explores corruption as a central theme through the use of imagery, creating the repulsive picture of overfed politicians whom he describes with derogatory words such as ‘constipating’, ‘farting’, ‘a group of bellies’, ‘flatulent’, ‘stupid’, ‘idiots’, et cetera. Corruption is revealed in the lifestyle of self-serving public officers, the complicity of the general public in corrupt practices and an eyesore with unsavoury images of filth and decay. The entire society is presented as being irredeemably corrupt and stinky. The streets, public places, offices and private homes, particularly where the poor reside, are depicted in nauseating images to reveal the deplorable state of the nation.The writer decries the pecuniary disposition of most people as their leaning towards materialism erodes them of the values that account for meaningful development in any society. The entire Ghanaian society is so engulfed in the corruption quagmire that only the corrupt are celebrated. The novel reveals that corruption is the bane of most countries where as a cankerworm, it feasts on the fabrics of every segment of the society. The protagonist is relegated to the background even in his family. His wife adores his corruptly enriched former classmate, Koomson, wishing her family could live in such opulence with exotic cars and unrivalled affluence. Her mother berates the man as a pathological failure, comparing him to the same Koomson. Ironically, it is revealed in the novel that Koomson was dull and stupid in school. He becomes an instant success the moment he joins politics, becomes a minister and begins to embezzle public fund. Armah spares no strata in his condemnation as he reveals that flatulent politicians like the Minister, Joseph Koomson, are not only buoyed by greed, but tacitly encouraged by majority of the populace and sycophants who sing their praises. Honest persons like the railway freight clerk are ridiculed for refusing to conform to the norm – accepting a life of bribery and corruption, and compromising their value system. Generally, the people pay lip service to the fight against corruption. They excitedly welcome a new government, knowing full well that the coup plotters would be worse than their predecessors.
The influence of imperialism: The beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born is a soul-searching novel written in response to “the rot which imprisoned everything.” The influence of imperialism on the new government of Ghana cannot be overlooked and even though “the sons of the nation” are controlling their beloved country, there are still “palms getting greased” but there is no excuse any more. They cannot or do not want to break free from the capitalist-style system which profits them but leaves others destitute. The novel is a personal account of one, significantly unnamed, man’s struggle to fight against this corruption, making corruption, and the institutionalizing of it, a major theme of the book.
The theme of Social Inequality: The description of the banister as the man ascends the stairs in his office block talks of the “organic” feeling of the wood and yet it leaves him thinking of all the “diseased skin” that has touched the banister, and so, for him it represents all that represses the human spirit. He accepts that “loneliness” will result as he cannot win. The unnamed man must suffer the humiliation of being compared to his more successful colleague and old school friend Koomson who is idolized by the man’s wife and family. As a junior government official, it would be easy for the unnamed man to advance his career but to do so would mean accepting bribes just like Koomson. He experiences isolation and rejection and his family accuse him of being disloyal because he fails to provide adequately for them.
The theme of Poverty: It is a sad fact that” it costs you more money if you go to the police” meaning that to get their co-operation, there will inevitably be more money changing hands which ironically only contributes to and extends the corruption. The result is a “living death” whether caused by poverty or corruption. The man is expected to behave like his counterparts because “if you work in the same office you can eat from the same bowl” he is told and he is the one who is made to feel guilty in his refusal.
The theme of poverty: The novel ultimately reveal how the man’s determination is his saving grace and is his salvation. He will save Koomson and earn his wife’s respect but he knows that the cycle of corruption will continue. To the reader, however, he is the “beautiful ” one. The subject matter is the story of a Man who struggles to remain clean when everyone else around him has succumbed to ‘rot’.In the end he could not change the system instead he aids one of the corrupt government officials to escape. This further amplifies the title of the novel which states that the beautiful ones are not yet born. It means that there are no honest citizens with firm characters who can change the system.
The theme of bad leadership and the negative effects of capitalism. The capitalist system encourages individual acquisition of excessive wealth. The leaders who are in the minority amass wealth for their personal aggrandizement while the citizens who are in the majority wallow in abject poverty. They therefore explore every opportunity to make quick money in fraudulent ways. The bus conductor is ready to cheat and the worker in the office does not blink an eye as he accepts bribe from the merchant and the merchant does not see anything wrong with that. On the contrary, he is spiteful of Man who refuses to accept bribe from him.The societal ill of corruption which the leaders profess to wipe out ends up swallowing the leaders as they get tainted with greed and corruption, in most cases, more than ever.
The Independence Of Ghana as portrayed in the novel.
In The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born, Armah showed his deep concern about greed and political corruption in a newly independent African nation. Armah’s works exhibit Western influences, as they show the plight of alienated heroes in search of values in a society seemingly devoid of meaning.
Set in Sekondi-Takoradi, one of Ghana’s major port cities, The beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born chronicles the life of a railway clerk who routinely must make hard choices between easy money that would enable him to provide more adequately for his family and his own conscience, which disallows his acceptance of bribes as a means of getting ahead. Armah considers corruption and opportunism as responsible for the failure of the nationalist movement, since newly elected leaders, once they have risen to power, become no less predisposed than were their colonialist predecessors to secure their own positions through unethical means or at the expense of the masses they were elected to serve.
The characters are variations of the two types of people who make up Ghanaian society in the 1960’s, the “hard” and the “weak,” at least as that society is perceived by the man and his Teacher. The man continually berates himself for being among the weak, yet knows that his inability to join the corrupt, successful ones is not entirely a failure of nerve. Still, the novel is not primarily an account of his inner struggle between the two impulses, the one toward the “gleam” of wealth and power, the other toward the clarity and purity of the moral life; rather, it is a lament over the existential situation. He knows the gleam is a false beacon; it will offer no satisfying solution but will instead kill the soul. Yet he sees the entire society fascinated by it, drawn to it, and lulled morally to sleep by it. To be honest in the eyes of society is to be not only stupid and naive but also uncooperative. ungracious, and insensitive to the needs of others. The man’s understanding of the topsy-turvy value system is never in question, but his ability to maintain his integrity is. For one thing, he begins to wonder if, in fact, the world offers any evidence of “corruption” being “unnatural.” Perhaps his inner sense of moral distinctions is an illusion and the most grotesque aberrations of nature are part of the order of things. He feels himself caught up in the never-ending cycle of birth and decay, during which only one brief instant produces something beautiful. What makes the stress almost unbearable, however, is the pressure he gets from his wife, Oyo. She is a victim of the gleam. His soul is not free; it is morally bound up in another person and must make decisions that affect her and the children. Her judgment of him means that he never has a “home” to which he can return.
The final act of the novel, however, changes both her and him. When she sees Koomson reduced to a whimpering, timid, immobile bundle of blubber, she looks at her husband with pride and respect. Her look and Koomson’s fall reaffirm the man in his sense of moral superiority to the society. His final act of courage in helping Koomson escape is an act of heroism.
A quote from Chapter 6:
“And where is my solid ground these days? Let us say just that the cycle from birth to decay has been short. Short, brief. But otherwise not at all unusual. And even in the decline into the end there are things that remind the longing mind of old beginnings and hold out the promise of new ones, things even like your despair itself. I have heard this pain before, only then it was multiplied many, many times, but that may only be because at that time I was not so alone, so far apart. Maybe there are other lonely voices despairing now. I will not be entranced by the voice, even if it should swell as it did in the days of hope. I will not be entranced, since I have seen the destruction of the promises it made. But I shall not resist it either. I will be like a cork. It is so surprising, is it not, how even the worst happenings of the past acquire a sweetness in the memory. Old harsh distresses are now merely pictures and tastes which hurt no more, like itching scars which can only give pleasure now. Strange, because when I can think soberly about it all, with out pushing any later joys into the deeper past, I can remember that things were terrible then. When the war was over the soldiers came back to homes broken in their absence and they themselves brought murder in their hearts and gave it to those nearest them. I saw it, not very clearly, because I had no way of understanding it, but it frightened me. We had gone on marches of victory and I do not think there was anyone mean enough in spirit to ask whether we knew what we were celebrating. Whose victory? Ours? It did not matter. We marched, and only a dishonest fool will look back on his boyhood and say he knew even then that there was no meaning in any of it. It is so funny now, to remember that we all thought we were welcoming victory. Or perhaps there is nothing funny here at all, and it is only that victory itself happens to be the identical twin of defeat.”
The events of the novel take place between Passion Week in 1965 and February 25, 1966, the day after the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president. On the political level, they describe the failure of a purportedly socialistic government, which is, in fact, as capitalistic as the white colonial regime it replaced. The new black leaders with white souls have, according to Ayei Kwei Armah, used their positions of power for personal gain. The corruption has filtered down to all levels of society, all economic relationships being based on intimidation, bribery, and fraud. What makes the society appear so bleak is that Armah reports it through the eyes of a rare individual who has retained his integrity: the man, an unnamed protagonist, has failed professionally because he has been too soft; he has been unable to play the bribery game. The only heroes in the society—that is, the only ones who succeed—are the hard ones who no longer feel moral or emotional hypocrisy. For the man, who speaks for Armah, the leaders of society are no different from the old African chiefs who sold their people in the slave trade for the trinkets of white society.
The novel divides neatly into two large parts. The first, which moves at an agonizingly slow pace, traces the daily routine of the man through a typical working day, beginning with the usual bus ride to the railway administration building where he is a traffic control clerk. The day is boringly uneventful, but Armah punctuates his narrative with depressing descriptions of the environment, sights and smells of human excrement, spittle, filth, and graffiti, relieved only occasionally by the beauty of some natural phenomenon, the sky or the sea, as yet uncontaminated by man’s touch. In the afternoon, a timber man comes to offer the man a bribe, but he leaves unsatisfied. After work the man meets an old acquaintance from school, now a government Minister, Joseph Koomson, and his wife, Estella. Koomson is one of the hard ones who have succeeded. The man invites the Koomsons for dinner the following Sunday evening. (The visit will initiate the events in the second part of the novel.)
The man’s return home on the bus completes the workday but hardly ends the day for him.
The novel treats the subjects of the 1960 concerning Africa or Africans, power play at public and personal levels, the evils of capitalism, revolutions, and leadership, but these issues are still contemporary in many African societies.The events of the novel take place between Passion Week in 1965 and February 25, 1966, the day after the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president. On the political level, they describe the failure of a purportedly socialistic government, which is, in fact, as capitalistic as the white colonial regime it replaced. The new black leaders with white souls have, according to Ayei Kwei Armah, used their positions of power for personal gain. The corruption has filtered down to all levels of society and economic relationships are based on intimidation and bribery.
In this article, we have presented an African novel that treats socio-political issues that face many African states. The author insists that there is no hope yet for the amelioration of these issues and the entrenchment of social justice because the beautiful ones are not yet born.
https://www.wikipedia.com/the beautiful ones are not yet born…